Posts Tagged ‘missions’

The people of Yana Cocha are a hard working group of indigenous people in the rural Andes. They are considered among the lowest of Ecuador’s social classes and are certainly not used to Westerners coming to visit and help them. Some were cautious at first, but all were gracious and humble.

They live simply in adobe homes with a smattering of modern conveniences. Nothing is built especially well, but they are proud of what they have and are quite hospitable. The people have a strong sense of community, and came together to welcome us with open arms, big smiles and great enthusiasm! We had an official welcoming as well as many, many unofficial gestures of thanks.

Often forgotten by the government, the indigenous people have been promised help by many different groups over many years; community leaders told us that our group led by Bruce and Cherith was the first to actually come through!

Moving Concrete Sections in Place

As is the case in much of Central and South America, sanitation is of a major concern. It is necessary to regularly disinfect hands as the people do not utilize the best sanitation practices, and the cleaning and disinfecting of food and water is typically not a priority. When one of the very polite people in the community would greet us with a warm “buenos dios” and shake hands, our hosts would immediately but quietly warn us in quiet English “disinfect your hands”.

Each day from 8:00 a.m. to usually around 1:00 p.m. we would work in the trenches with the community, helping to drain the area where they intended to collect the spring water in a concrete chamber. From there the water would be filtered and pumped to the homes along the hillsides. It was hard, filthy work, and very often we would be bumping into each other as everyone wanted to pitch in but there were often more workers than work. All of the community members were involved and were excellent, enthusiastic workers; some of the women even raked the mud with children strapped to their backs.

Beautiful Children Watching the Work

The working conditions were not deplorable, just wet, muddy and hard. We saw a few tarantulas working along us, but other than that we did not see any serious insects. (Tarantulas are not as bad as the scorpions we have seen on trips to Mexico and Haiti!)

Initially some of us were a little frustrated with the slow pace and the short days. We were there to work we reasoned, and wanted to accomplish something significant! However, we learned that while Bruce and HCJB designs and leads the effort, it is really a community project and they are to do most of the work. HCJB believes that we should be there providing an example and help, but are not to take over the run the project.

I learned to appreciate and respect this approach, as charity in America has largely been reduced to free gifts of provisions, and not conditional donations of work. Work gives the needy a sense of accomplishment and self-respect that blind donations cannot.

We were also In Yana Cocha to spend time socializing and fellowshipping with other Christians. Every day after work we would make lunch, play with the kids for a couple of hours, and prepare for an evening time of learning and worshipping together.

Sharing Roasted Guinea Pig

Food was generally very good, as our missionary hosts provided us with clean, healthy, tasty food! Cherith Rydbeck is a very good cook and had every day’s meal planned before we left Quito. We were discouraged from eating any local food, as again, sanitation and clean food preparation are not the highest priority to the community.

Still, there is a local delicacy known as “cuy” or roasted guinea pig that is served with potatoes and offered to guests. We knew that it was likely going to be offered to us and it would be a major affront to refuse a prized meal from a poor community member. Sure enough, around dinner time one night a large group of people showed up with more than enough servings of cuy and potatoes for all of us. A little gamey and having a taste all its own, I doubt it will catch on in the US.

We never got close to seeing the completion of this project, but we helped Bruce get it started. With God’s help it will be finished next year and about a hundred homes will have clean water and their residents will have made Christian friends in the United States.

HCJB Radio Station In Quito

Quito, Ecuador has been home to Bruce and Cherith Rydbeck for thirty years as missionaries to the capital city and rural communities in the Andes mountains. Before them Cherith’s parents served as missionaries in Ecuador as far back as the 1950’s.

The Rydbeck’s parent mission organization, HCJB Global, is now over 80 years old and now has a presence in 100 countries.  Their stated vision is “To partner with Christians in media and healthcare to bring the voice and hands of Jesus to the unreached peoples of the world.”

They believe in serving Christ by helping the poorest of the poor improve their overall health while bringing them the Gospel through media, water projects, and health/wellness training.

Bruce Rydbeck, a civil engineer who has worked all over the world, manages their clean water projects in Ecuador, providing the expertise while the host communities provide most of the labor. Materials are either donated or provided by the communities or other charities, sometimes with the help of the Ecuadorean government. These are typically projects for indigenous Indians, generally considered the lowest social class in Ecuador.

HCJB Global runs Hospital Vozandes-Quito

The Rydbeck’s periodically welcome mission teams from supporting Churches in the United States. The teams bring goods and goodwill from home,  get involved to a varying extent with the work projects, and help minister in the communities. Together they bond with the community for a short time, bringing God’s love along with a great project. According to Cherith and Bruce, it means a great deal for these people to see westerners come and work alongside them and treat them as brothers and sisters in Christ. Many of the people may have never seen a westerner before.
By the time we arrived in Quito, we had taken a three hour flight from Boston to MIami, then a four hour stopover, then a four hour flight to Quito. With travel to and from the airports we had been traveling 13 hours by that point and were trying to adjust to the nearly 10,000 foot elevation. Clearly we needed a day or two to adjust before making the four hour trip to our destination in the mountains.
Bruce and Cherith were great hosts! Bruce is a very knowledgeable person, and took us around Quito visiting important sites. Cherith was the primary organizer, who made sure we had clean, healthy food to eat. When we were in Quito, we generally ate at their house or a restaurant that was pre-screened for cleanliness by Cherith. She is an excellent cook and made us feel right at home; so much so that she immediately put us to work!

Cotopaxi near Quito is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world

After viewing some of the charitable efforts of HCJB in Quito including the hospital, our group from Free Christian Church began preparations for a four hour trip into the Andes. Our destination was the community of Yana Cocha (black lake) where Bruce was about to begin an ambitious effort to contain a spring and bring clean water to around 100 homes built into two separate very steep hillsides.

Communities that want a clean water project make a request to HCJB and commit the labor necessary to build it. They also know that it may take time to raise the funds for the materials and other expenses for the project. Typically the trenches are hand dug, and most of the work is done “the old fashioned way”. Labor is cheap and readily available, while money and heavy equipment is largely unavailable. 
Having started to adjust to the culture and high altitude, we were ready to move on to a more rural part of the Andes.

Of of the many distressed children at Rose Mina

The 2010 earthquake killed at least 250,000 Haitians, and forced millions to live in temporary shelter in squalid conditions. There are countless large piles of rubble and tent cities to go along with the dilapidated buildings and shacks that exist all over Port-au-Prince and other urban areas. But if it is not clear, it should be mentioned that Haiti was a deplorable place well before the 2010 earthquake; child abuse, trafficking and malnutrition was rampant as long as anyone can remember.

Note the following from a March 2008 discussion on the US State Department website: “Despite some improvements, the government’s human rights record remained poor. The following human rights problems were reported: alleged unlawful killings by Haiti National Police officers; ineffective measures to address killings by members of gangs and other armed groups; HNP participation in kidnappings; overcrowding and poor sanitation in prisons; arbitrary threats and arrests; prolonged pretrial detention; an inefficient judiciary subject to significant influence by the executive and legislative branches; severe corruption in all branches of government; violence and societal discrimination against women; child abuse, internal trafficking of children, and child domestic labor; and ineffective enforcement of trade union organizing rights…. the government acknowledged the problem of internal trafficking, including that of children. The Brigade for the Protection of Minors (BPM), a branch of the Haiti National Police, investigated cases of child trafficking and monitored movement of children across the border with the Dominican Republic. However, in addition to the lack of specific penalties for trafficking, the lack of resources, training, and institutionalized procedures remained barriers to its operational capacity. There were so many street children in Port-au-Prince who were victims of domestic trafficking that the BPM did not as a matter of routine try to help them.

Non-governmental organizations were in the forefront in combating trafficking of children under the guise of international adoptions. On February 14, authorities arrested the operator of an orphanage and charged her with trafficking 32 children. On August 8, authorities in conjunction with two NGOs rescued 47 children from a rogue orphanage. Many of the children’s parents were unaware of the true activities of the orphanage. The orphanage remained open at year’s end.”

Also, “Child abuse was a problem. There was anecdotal evidence that in very poor families caretakers deprived the youngest children of food to feed older, income-generating children. In January 2006 a UN independent expert stated that 47 percent of sexual assaults involved minors as victims.”

From this American’s point of view, the most disturbing part of this is that almost no one is writing about it! Unless these ugly secrets become well known by Americans, not much will change. Most of the conservative press is focused on cleaning up our own economic and moral messes; the more  liberal press seems to be focused on blaming Americans for whatever bad exists in the world.

When I contacted the Miami Herald recently, asking them to write about the problem of Haitians Hurting Haitians, I was told that due to the large Haitian population in Miami, they have to tread lightly and be careful what they write about. Apparently articles about poor hurting poor do not sell newspapers. But if I had a story of Haitians helping Haitians, or Americans hurting Haitians, they would be more than happy to write about it.

Haiti has been a wasteland for as long as anyone can remember. It may seem like picking on them when they are down, but it is obvious when you go there that Haiti cannot continue to operate in the dysfunctional manner they have for the last 100 years. If they do so, it is likely that they will continue to suffer even greater tragedies.

Haiti is operating in survival mode with each citizen just doing what they can to survive. There is very little concept of savings, planning, investment, workmanship, beautification, etc., since each day is a battle to simply live. They have had their share of corrupt leaders and natural disasters, but at its core, they do not have a culture that promotes a strong work ethic, good workmanship, planning, and personal responsibility.

While our unique American culture is far from perfect (and perhaps getting less so by the day) it is obviously one of the more desirable nations on earth, and has been for at least 100 years. Perhaps unwittingly, we have historically employed a “melting pot” strategy: we invited immigrants to become part of a great experiment in a new world, and bring their best with them! Generations of various peoples have come here and thrived when they learned English, adjusted to our culture and became an asset to the community. By welcoming immigrants at all income levels, we provided a stable culture base where those from around the world could have a chance to prosper.

Consider the words of Theodore Roosevelt, known as one of the better American presidents:

“In the first place we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the man’s becoming in very fact an American, and nothing but an American…There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag, and this excludes the red flag, which symbolizes all wars against liberty and civilization, just as much as it excludes any foreign flag of a nation to which we are hostile…We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language…and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.”
This quote is especially surprising coming from Teddy since he is also known as one of the first progressives even though he was a Republican. This Roosevelt is often vilified by conservatives due to some of his beliefs that the average person needed to be managed by the government rather than generally left alone to their own devices. 

In recent decades, we have encouraged immigrants with no skills and no ability to support themselves to come here. We have told immigrants to put a wall around their ways of living that have been transmitted from one generation to another and re-establish them here, even if they have failed to bring them sustainability. This can bring some of the best, but also the worst of their culture to a society that is not designed to deal with completely different culture standards.

Without embracing the freedoms and systems that our country has successfully developed over the years, many of these people have become liabilities, not assets.  They have not prospered, and have become a drain on our financial stability, not to mention their own.

The Great Society programs developed out of the European ideal of “equality”, over our traditional American ideal of “liberty”. Instead of a monoculture that is constantly improving with new immigrants desiring to become part of this great American experiment, we are told that entire societies can locate here, and does not have to make changes to prosper.

As the United States under President Obama has taken dramatic steps in an effort to move us more towards a multi-cultural society, Europe is seen moving the other way. At the same time that we have witnessed violent riots in France, Greece and great cultural dissension in the United Kingdom, liberal Germany is declaring the experiment a failure. As Chancellor Angela Merkel stated late last year; “This multicultural approach, saying that we simply live side by side and live happily with each other has failed. Utterly failed,” Merkel said.

While President Obama seems to be unfazed, the rest of the nation seems to be listening and are demanding that we not be so quick to abandon a culture that has been the most prosperous in history. We still have something of a core culture, a shared sense of moral beliefs and ideals, a desire to prosper and succeed to some extent our own merit.
But encouraged by a call for diversity, many cultures create  outposts of their own monoculture in America. They have not benefited from Judeo-Christian teachings that are at the root of our society. If a culture has led generations of its citizens to poverty in their own land, why do we think that they will thrive when bringing that exact culture here? It is antithetical to our unique society that we can be pulled in multiple directions, with different sets of eyes.

Even without Germany’s assessment, it should be clear that if we end up with many different cultures trying to live the same as they did in their homeland instead of blending into our culture, we will all have completely different sets of ideals, beliefs and mores. This causes friction between the cultures and keeps us from being a cohesive society.

Multi-culturists cringe at the thought that one culture is more “successful” than another, and would counter that success is in the eyes of the beholder. But the world is filled with cultures that do not embrace those tenets, and few would refer to them as successful by any measure. Poverty has gripped many nations for hundreds of years, and it can’t be all blamed on bad luck or imperialist nations. Whether the reader is religious or not, it is hard to argue that the common sense and discipline that the Bible delivers, provides the basis of most of our broader beliefs and practices.

Would anyone here want to move to a nation anywhere on earth of any significance that does not have Judeo-Christian teachings at its core? Would we embrace a life that did not give people individual freedoms and equal rights, promote a strong work ethic, give them the opportunity to thrive, or allow for freedom of thought and expression?

I am not sure that the American Federal Government can straighten out Haiti at any price. But I do believe that if Haiti embraced the common sense and work practices employed in the last century in the United States, they would be well on their way to prosperity for the next generation.

So everyone on the mission team met one or more kids that especially touched their heart for whatever reason. Usually it is one of the beautiful 4-8 year old kids with smiles and bigger personalities.

Michelle has followed young Jo-El for three years now, and is haunted each time by his cries when she has to leave. She has not seen him grow very much between mission trips and is working hard at home to get him out of this place.

Usually it is one of the beautiful 4-8 year old kids with smiles and bigger personalities. Most of them had pot bellies (unfortunately swollen from poor nutrition and not overeating) and were diseased and filthy, but their desire for love and affection drew us in.

Maybe it was a young boy with an effervescent personality who could dance, sing, or just jump around and holler. Or a tender young girl dragging a filthy doll that was too dreadful to be stolen from her. Some of the girls instinctively looked out after the babies and toddlers- they could really warm your heart with the care they provided without much to offer. It is always worse for the women and we had a sense of dread of what the future holds for them.

Perhaps one of the infants, usually sick and especially ill-nourished as there was no pedialyte or anyone to give it to them. There were few wet diapers as they did not get enough water to wet the diaper- who would give it to them?

Few were drawn to the teen boys, who were relatively strong, were able to come and go and take care of themselves. Fewer still were drawn to the disabled, though we all felt very bad for them. I must admit that I am a very emotional person, and I feel so badly for the disabled that I find it hard to even speak to them. I just nod and smile, and move on my way.

But in Haiti everything is different and I felt God taking me in many different directions. I got to meet Jonathan, a blind teen who spent his days alone in a dark room, playing old hymns on an old toy piano. The familiar tunes haunted us a we tried not to think of his awful plight and get our work done, draped in healthier kids who were able to pursue us for attention.

But it was Baselais, a 14 year old boy with one leg that I really befriended. He has a warm smile that only leaves when he discusses his disability. He said that he lost his leg do to a “voodoo trap”: Haitian code for anything bad that happens. It is likely that he had an injury and lost the leg to poor health care or lack of antibiotics.

Out of the 71 kids, I chose him to lead a work party on the roof of Rose Mina, calling him “Le Boss!” and telling him he was “En Charge”. His beaming face told me that this was not a common occurrence for the young man. Still, he did a great job keeping the project moving, organized the other boys, and told us who worked the hardest, and who did not. He was smaller than many, had one leg and hobbled on a broken crutch, but still commanded respect from the other kids. This is a kid who needs some help. The other boys were thrilled to get $2.00 for a few hours work over two days. Perhaps out of emotion for his sorry state, I gave Baselais all of the cash I had with me on the last day: about $30.00.

I had him video a message to my son James; I taught him our secret handshake.

I have been trying to get someone to look after him, and handle money that I wanted to send him. The orphanage could not be trusted with money, so I needed someone else to look in on him. Despite asking several people that I have contact with in Haiti, nothing was going together.

Finally today, Jonas lined up  a man we met in Haiti named Paul, who agreed to check on him once per week and report back. I sent $150 today by Western Union to get him started. I am hopeful that he will get a prosthetic leg and the training to go with it. I want him to begin to learn English as the most successful people in Haiti speak that language. You cannot be more than a peasant in Haiti if you don’t speak English or at least French.

I want them to teach him about nutrition, cleanliness, fitness. Perhaps because of his disability, I want to see him have opportunities that other kids in Haiti do not have. Most importantly I want him to learn about Jesus, and know that any good that the missionaries do for him is out of Christian love.

I don’t know where it will lead, as I really can’t speak to him and don’t really know much about him. But I have to trust God who put him in my life and on my heart that some good purpose will happen from my involvement with Baselais. Below is a picture of me and him: he is not smiling as he knows I am leaving.

May God lead him to do great things in Haiti!

The kids of Rose Mina have very little excitement or activity of any kind to look forward to. So when we wanted to hire  of them to clean the debris of the roof that provided the major play area for the kids, I got a great response. Several of the kids worked hard; I put my buddy Basleigh in charge. He lost a leg he said when “someone set a powder” or voodoo trap for him and the “doctors” had to cut his leg off.

Payday for the kids. I wanted to hire 5 of them for $2 each. I ended up paying 17 of them. They were pretty excited and I relied on Basleigh to tell me who worked the most.

We tried to get some of the kids out of this hell hole, but Mrs. Fernandez refused. This missionary is still trying to get the boy she is holding, Jo-El, out of this dump so he can be adopted. Many Haitian kids are held captive by their adult caretakers who convince well-meaning Americans and Europeans to donate money, thinking that they are helping the kids.

Our plans to work at Hope for the Children of Haiti changed as we found that a very large mission group was working there at the same time. It was uplifting as we encountered many mission groups and volunteer medical teams wherever we went in Haiti. That may have been why we did not experience any racial hostility, as the only white people we met were there to help Haitians on a volunteer basis.
In order to best use our time in Haiti, some of us decided to work at another orphanage in much more desperate straits: Rose-Mina, an unapproved orphanage run in her home by Mrs. Fernandez ( Our sister Church, Grace Chapel has been supporting Rose-Mina for some time, giving them money to get the kids medical help, for building repairs, and for supplies.

To hear her tell it, Mrs. Fernandez has taken in the kids, along with an occasional widow out of Christian love. She offered to take us to two additional locations where she runs other “orphanages”. Although she claims to be a pastor of some sort, we never saw her once interact positively with the children in any manner. When we got to Rose-Mina, she cried the obligatory tears, told us how wonderful we were and that we came just in time! We tried to believe her, wanting to give her the benefit of the doubt under such difficult circumstances. Dr. Bernard, who also helped Mrs. Fernandez many times, advised us against helping her due to her questionable business practices and poor conditions for the kids. We still hoped that it could be turned around as we feared the children would be put on the streets.

When we saw 71 filthy, malnourished kids living in the open covered courtyard of a small  home with no running water, no supplies, a dangerously filthy play area covered with  sewage, rat-infested dirty latrine, rancid oils in a small open “kitchen” with flies covering  everything, we realized that even by Haitian standards, this was deplorable. When her  son-in-law Ernst pulled up in a white BMW to pick up some of his things, our shock  turned to revulsion.
All of the children had ailments including skin diseases, rashes, parasites, and were very  dirty. Our nurse Marnie held back tears as she told us that there was no point in treating  most of these kids for communicable diseases, parasites and infections as they would just  get the ailments back as soon as we left.

We were there for six straight days and most of the kids had the same clothing on the entire time. At the insistence of Grace Chapel, Mrs. Fernandez hired a few local workers who occasionally would bath the smaller children. Since it was the rainy season, some of the kids would be showered by the runoff from one of the leaky tarps during storms. When the clothes were washed, they were laid out on the filthy roof to dry.
Among the children were: two very sick infants who were not getting any liquids or nutrition; a girl whose head was enlarged from an untreated ailment; many toddlers with hard, bloated stomachs from malnutrition; a young teen who had a leg amputated but could not get to the free American clinic to get a prosthetic; a young girl with a mild case of Cerebral Palsy that was getting worse because she could not get to a clinic to receive physical therapy; a blind teen was kicked out of the school for the blind due to lack of funds.
The blind boy, Jonathan, spent his days playing familiar hymns on a toy piano the entire time we were there. He had almost no interaction with any other children. I am haunted by the thoughts of what he will do with his time when the batteries run out.
When these examples were pointed out to Mrs. Fernandez, she simply stated “the kids are fine and I want nothing to do with any clinics!” When Jonas gave her $100 to take the infants to the clinic, she said she would. When we came back the next day, she kept the money but had not taken the children to the doctors. The babies also were not there.
Despite significant investments by Grace Chapel, each year that they return they find even more kids in this make-shift orphanage and the kids in more desperate straits. We found piles of donated water bottles scattered around the house; boxes of medical supplies that were damaged from improper storage; a cistern with an insecure cover that one of the children recently fell into. A child apparently died at the orphanage last year, but we could not get information on the circumstances.
Mrs. Fernandez always offered a number of excuses, but this was something of a final effort for Grace Chapel. They hated to pull their support because of the kids, but it became clear as we worked there that this was a profit-making business for Mrs. Fernandez and not the humanitarian effort she pretended it to be. (It is my opinion that she belongs in jail doing hard labor, not in responsible charge of beautiful children).

Still, since we were there, we wanted to make things better for the kids as a whole, and perhaps a lot better for a few of the kids. So our plan was to clean the filthy place, get the water system working, build and stock a pantry, and were considering paying for the electrical lines to be brought in.

The video of the grounds I show here is only a few of the videos I will share unedited.